Depression After Cancer Surgery

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 8, 2013

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My father recently had a surgery for his lung cancer. The doctor said his cancer was Stage I. I have noticed that he has been quite depressed since the operation despite his doctor's assurance of a high cure rate for his cancer. Is depression common in patients with lung cancer? Thank you.


Li Liu, MD, Editorial Assistant for OncoLink, responds:

Depression in cancer patients in general is common and occurs throughout the course of their cancer illness (JAMA 1983 Feb 11; 249(6): 751-7; Cancer 1996 Sep 1; 78(5): 1131-7). Patients with lung cancer have higher rates of depression than patients with many other common cancer types. A study from Japan reported the prevalence of depression observed in 223 patients who have been successfully treated for non-small cell lung carcinoma (Cancer 2000 Sep 1; 89(5): 1172-9). Over the 3-month period, 14.8% had major or minor depression. The prevalence of depression was 9.0% at 1 month, 9.4% at 2 months, and 5.8% at 3 months. The researchers noted that 6.3% of the patients had a history of major depression prior to their lung cancer diagnosis. They found that satisfaction with confidants, pain, and performance status was significantly associated with depression at 3 months. Early recognition and intervention of depression may play an important role in the overall management of patients with non-small cell lung cancer after successful treatment. Social support, especially from family members, is critical. Medication can also often improve mood and depressive symptoms. Treating depression is important from a quality of life standpoint, and also because depression and depressive coping with lung carcinoma have been shown to be significantly associated with shorter survival, independent of the influence of the biomedical prognostic factors, in patients with lung cancer (Arch Gen Psychiatry 1999 Aug; 56(8): 756-62).

You should discuss your father's condition with his oncologists, and perhaps obtaining consultations from a psychiatrist.

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